Important Australian + International Fine Art
26 August 2009

Fred Williams

(1927 - 1982)

oil on canvas

106.0 x 96.0 cm

signed upper left: Fred Williams

$220,000 - 280,000

Estate of the artist, Melbourne
Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney (label attached verso) Art Galleries Schubert, Queensland
Private collection, Sydney
Private collection, New South Wales
Private collection, Sydney


Waterfall Paintings, Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney, September – October 1996, cat. 7

Catalogue text

Fred Williams's waterfall series of the late 1970s had its genesis in Eugene von Guerard's oil, Waterfall, Strath Creek, 1862, in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. In 1970 he copied it freely in gouache.1 Williams had long admired the painting, which generated a wider interest in other mid-nineteenth pictures of waterfalls by Von Guerard's contemporaries such as Nicholas Chevalier and Thomas Clark. Using a 1940 copy of Physiography of Victoria by E. Sherbon Hill as a guide, Williams visited the various sites in Victoria that had inspired them - Sailors Falls at Daylesford, Lal Lal Falls near Ballarat, Queens Falls by Kyneton, and many more. He was also attracted to the Kinglake National Park, some fifty kilometres north east of Melbourne, with its deeply wooded and ferntreed gullies, and two very beautiful waterfalls - Masons Falls and Wombelano Falls.

In several of his Lal Lal Falls paintings, Williams abandoned the horizon line, a hallmark of some of his best work, and employed the diagonal as a striking compositional device. Its singular land formations were presented from above, as were those in the overlapping Werribee Gorge series. In both he dispensed with the illusions of one-point perspective in favour of overall pictorial treatment. This continued at Strath Creek Falls where he developed his paintings into brilliant essays in painterly abstraction. Lal Lal had also inspired a more traditional landscape approach, using the elevated view complete with horizon line and sky. Painted outdoors, Lal Lal Falls Polyptych, 1979, led to the major work of the series, the panoramic Waterfall Polyptych, 1979, in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. In Masons Falls, Williams effectively adopted elements from both approaches. The absence of an horizon encouraged overall pictorial and surface interest, rich in colour, texture and of imagery inspired by the scene. The steps of rock over which the water flows, however, recede into the picture as they ascend and descend across the picture plane. Williams balanced the picturesque beauty of this scene of tumbling, lyrical waters, with the majesty, solid monumentality and geometry of the rocks. He then set all within the lushness of the landscape, heightened by the emphasis in his palette on a limited range of fruitful greens and deep blues. As James Mollison observed, 'Williams's use of landscape as the basis for his formal invention climaxes in the brilliance of the waterfall pictures. In his inventiveness before the landscape, and in the use he made of this inventiveness upon reflection in the studio, lay one of his finest achievements.'2

1. The gouache is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
2. Mollison, J, A Singular Vision: The Art of Fred Williams, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1989, p. 225